Washington Post

Password-sharing case divides Ninth Circuit in Nosal II

[Commentary] The Ninth Circuit has handed down United States v. Nosal (“Nosal II“), a case on the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The court held 2-1 that former employees of a company who had their company accounts revoked violated the CFAA when they subsequently used the passwords of a current employee, with the current employee’s permission, to access the company’s computers. I think that the majority’s result is right on its facts but that its analysis is less helpful than it could be. This post explains my thinking, and it then explains the likely importance of the Ninth Circuit’s still-pending case in Facebook v. Power Ventures.

[Orin Kerr is the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School]

FBI completes Clinton email probe, recommends no criminal charges

FBI Director James Comey said that his agency will not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server as Secretary of State, but called Clinton and her staff “extremely careless” in handling sensitive data.

Director Comey said the FBI investigations into thousands of e-mails by Clinton determined that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” The findings now go to the Justice Department. The announcement — which came only about 72 hours after FBI agents interviewed Clinton — in some ways lifts the cloud that has been hanging over Clinton’s presidential campaign for months. But it will almost certainly spark criticism that the outcome of the high-profile probe was a foregone conclusion, influenced heavily by political considerations. Director Comey said Justice Department prosecutors also must make a final determination, though he was unequivocal in stating his view. “We are expressing our view to Justice that no charges are appropriate in this case,” he said.

Guns, butter and broadband: How technology has finally emerged as a viable campaign issue

[Commentary] The New York Times has endorsed Tim Wu, the progressive candidate for New York lieutenant governor, in its editorial pages. The endorsement is a sign that technology, long relegated to the fringes of political discussion, has finally become a dinner-table issue and the basis for a viable campaign platform.

As the Web keeps taking over ever larger chunks of the economy, the policies that govern it have become increasingly relevant to the average consumer. Large, public debates like the one involving SOPA and PIPA, or cellphone unlocking, or net neutrality, have a direct effect on what Americans can do with their connected devices and the services layered on top of them. And that's made tech a hot-button issue.

Microsoft targets vacationing Hill staffers with e-mail privacy ad campaign

Microsoft, getting a jump on the fall political season, took out full-page ads in the Outer Banks Sentinel, Martha's Vineyard Times and Rehoboth Beach's Cape Gazette to remind Washingtonians on vacation about e-mail privacy laws.

The ads are part of an ongoing campaign by Microsoft to convince lawmakers to reform the laws. Microsoft and other tech firms are also calling on Congress to debate these issues and settle the matter with legislation, rather than leaving it up to the courts to decide.

The smartphone “kill switch,” explained

A kill switch allows a smartphone user to remotely wipe the contents of their phones and make them unusable in case they get stolen.

So what could change about your phone if it gets a kill switch? Possibly not that much.

In fact, many smartphone owners already have the capability. Between Apple and Samsung apps, at least 68 percent of US smartphones already have something akin to the "kill switch" capability.

And that number is only expected to grow: Google and Microsoft have also announced plans to put these kinds of features in their Android and Windows Phone systems. Doing so would essentially offer the option to all smartphone buyers, regardless of what state laws require.

Why the economics of the Internet look totally different in North America

[Commentary] The interconnection market might be complicated and opaque to most of us, but it's a vital part of our Internet experience. A Cloudflare analysis shows that in North America (which basically means the United States, because Cloudflare operates only one Canadian data center and none in Mexico) companies engage in much more paid transit than free peering than in other regions of the world.

Cloudflare's data offers more insight on the bigger picture, which is that paid transit is very common. That's a talking point often advanced by people who say Netflix is complaining a lot about nothing, or that efforts to ban "Internet fast lanes" overlook the fact that the Internet is already non-neutral thanks to paid transit. If there's already an existing market where companies pay each other to carry traffic, the argument goes, then what's the big deal about paid peering or, in the last-mile Internet, paid prioritization?

What New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and others want from the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger

From New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to cable advertising firms to state public service commissions, there are those who believe that the Federal Communications Commission should impose stronger merger conditions on Comcast and Time Warner.

Here are a few of those ideas.

  • Make sure Internet Essentials actually works for more people.
  • Extend Comcast's previous commitments by another two years.
  • Limit Comcast's control over the cable advertising market.

For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe

Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent.

The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.

While the world’s most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ, long have used cellphone data to track targets around the globe, experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation -- including the United States -- with relative ease and precision.

So my phone can be tracked anywhere. Can I make it stop?

The story on surveillance technology that can track cell phone users anywhere in the world left some readers with a question: What can they do, short of tossing their phones into the sea, to keep their locations private?

The answer is, individually, not much if you are an ordinary cell phone user. As long as your phone connects to a carrier’s cellular network, the carrier must keep records of your location. Sophisticated users can opt for personal solutions: Encrypted e-mail or apps that use the Internet, rather than cell phone networks, to carry calls.

The Chief Technology Officer of the United States is leaving. What now?

Todd Park, who took over the job of US Chief Technology Officer nearly two and a half years ago, is returning home to California at by the end of August. He will, according to those familiar with the situation, remain part of the White House team, helping to recruit technologists to government service and keeping an eye on how the evolution of tech might impact the creation of public policy.

And Park's departure reopens the debate over what the nature of the US CTO role should be. One read of the job suggests that, in ideal times, the CTO post should be far more focused on developing public policy than rebooting botched IT projects. Also renewed by Park's decision to head west is the question of what sort of person should fill the US Chief Technology Officer’s slot.